Election Intrigue in Montecito

By Bob Hazard   |   July 25, 2019

The big local political news is that Laura Capps is telling friends and political associates that she has decided to challenge Das Williams in his bid for re-election as 1st District County Supervisor. The election will be held March 3, 2020, replacing the traditional June California primary election. Candidates must be certified by December 26, 2018. Vote by mail balloting starts February 3, 2020 with the last day of voter registration February 17.

Both Laura Capps and Das Williams are high-profile Democrats, setting off an interesting race in what already promises to be a high-turnout presidential primary election.

Who Will be Favored to Win?

The Capps camp reportedly includes a number of high-profile Democratic supporters including Sara Miller McCune, businesswoman and philanthropist, chair of SAGE Publications and founder of the non-profit Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media and Public Policy. She is joined in her support by noted investigative reporter Ann Louise Bardach, who has been an anti-cannabis crusader in criticizing Das Williams’ role in making the County of Santa Barbara the “Marijuana Capital of the World” for its cannabis cultivation and its distinctive odor of “buds-in-bloom” in Carpinteria. According to Bardach, other notable Capps supporters include Susan Rose, Kristen Sneddon, Janet Wolf, Marsha Croninger, and Hillary Hauser.

Capps supporters point to a recent private “viability” poll of 403 likely voters in the 1st District which found that 32% of potential voters favored Capps, 24% favored Williams, but 44% of those surveyed remain undecided. The poll also found that Capps is less well-known than Williams; women favor Capps by 38% to 24% while men are statistically tied at 24% each; and the intensity and media coverage of the marijuana issue currently benefits Capps.

Williams’ supporters would answer that Das is very good at winning elections. He enjoys overwhelming Latino/Hispanic support in the City of Santa Barbara. He does well in the City of Carpinteria, but not as well in the Carpinteria Valley or Montecito. Williams is strongly supported by unions and environmentalists and he has the endorsement of the Democratic Party.

This upcoming election could have enormous consequences for shaping Montecito’s future. As usual, with both candidates sufficiently liberal, the race will come down to message, money and organization. Both candidates will be hampered by a Santa Barbara County government that is essentially broke due to crushing retiree pension and healthcare costs.

In 2018, the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury investigated complaints about the nine principal public pension systems in Santa Barbara County, including the eight cities funded by CalPERS and the County of Santa Barbara. The County of Santa Barbara Employee Retirement System (SBCERS), is not part of the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) risk pool. 

Back in 1999, county pension costs, or payments to the Santa Barbara County Employee’s Retirement System, accounted for less than 10% of payroll. Today according to the Grand Jury Report, pension contributions to the county’s SBCERS system have risen to 49% of payroll. Still, the County’s unfunded liability over its Market Value Assets was reported to be $585.7 million. Both candidates claim they will address this problem, despite their strong support from public service unions.

According to Mona Miyasato, Chief Executive Officer for the County of Santa Barbara, in her executive summary of the 2019-2020 budget negotiations, “Major capital improvement projects requiring County General Fund support have been unfunded for several years. Deferred maintenance remains a significant issue for capital renewal needs of roads and parks.” To solve its problems successfully Montecito will have to propose innovative and ingenious solutions.

The Case for Montecito

Some suggest that the $100+ million that Montecito residents and businesses contribute in property taxes is inadequate. Miyasato dismisses that notion with her observation that, “While the Montecito community constitutes about one-quarter of one percent of the total land in the county, it generates approximately 17% of the property tax base and 62% of the transient occupancy [hotel] tax to the County’s General Fund. The financial impacts of Montecito’s tax contributions have a significant effect on services provided throughout the county.”

For once, with a contested election, Montecito might have some relevance to County leaders with its high voter turnout and its ability to raise political capital. Both candidates will be courting Montecito voters and supporters. The time has never been better for Montecito to seize a significant role from the county in strategically planning Montecito’s future, along with reasonable and appropriate county funding allocations.

Whether the issue is reducing local gridlock while widening the 101; funding the unsustainable fixed costs of water; funding our ring nets, debris basins, Montecito Trails and library; developing regional solutions for secure local water supplies, recycling wastewater, managing our groundwater, lowering the cost of desalination, or creating a community service district to gain a stronger local voice to deal with issues such as, for example, the undergrounding of the ugly hodgepodge of wires, poles, boxes, and cell towers that serve to uglify our otherwise beautiful community, this could be a unique opportunity to come together on a set of solutions.

Montecito, with its plethora of part-time residents and world travelers, needs to focus on selected solutions, stop chattering and complaining, develop serious proposals that include realistic funding, and offer fiscally-responsible suggestions to county government as to what it is that this community wants. No solution can be addressed in isolation. No solution can be developed in a single silo. Montecito has no government representation other than our elected County Supervisor leader. It is imperative that we design a plan for our future survival, develop priorities, identify funding sources for what needs to be done, and work in partnership with not only our own District Supervisor, but with all five supervisors, to do what needs to be done to protect and preserve Montecito’s famed semi-rural lifestyle and the life safety of its residents.

Realistic solutions require brains and disciplines. This election at least offers a choice of partners. In my business career, the most important lesson learned was that of the decisions you make in life, the most important are the partners you choose. Both candidates have traditional Democratic political beliefs regarding education spending, expansion of government, homelessness, access to healthcare, sanctuary, environmental issues, public service unions. It’s up to us, then, to figure out which one can best help Montecito move forward successfully.

The Case for Capps

Laura Capps is the daughter of long-time U.S. Congresswoman Lois Capps who served for 19 years before retiring in 2016 at the age of 78. She was replaced by former 1st County Supervisor, Salud Carbajal, after she had won nine consecutive elections. The senior Ms Capps succeeded her husband, Congressman Walter Capps, following his sudden death from a heart attack at Dulles Airport in 1997 after serving only seven months of his first term.

Daughter Laura Capps, now in her mid-40s, after graduating from UC Berkeley, landed an internship at the White House, and was hired as full-time assistant to George Stephanopoulos. Her office was right next to the Oval Office. She was a speechwriter for President Clinton, a communications director for John Kerry’s presidential campaign, and a Communications Director for Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

She now runs her own public affairs consulting practice called Mission Partners in Santa Barbara, supporting state and national non-profits. She also spearheads a coalition to help kids get free healthy meals in the summer and is also an elected member of the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board. In addition to her work on national boards, she has been involved locally on the boards of the Santa Barbara County Commission for Women, the Community Environmental Council, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and the Interfaith Initiative of Santa Barbara County. 

The Case for Williams

Das Williams grew up in Santa Barbara County and attended local schools, including Santa Barbara City College, UC Berkeley and UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management where he graduated with a master’s degree in Environmental Sciences and Management in 2005. While in graduate school at Bren, Das successfully ran for the Santa Barbara City Council in 2002 and spent the next seven years serving the City of Santa Barbara as a councilmember. He spearheaded the effort to require 30% of the city’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2011.

In 2010, Williams was elected to the State Assembly representing the 37th District, where he championed measures to reduce California’s dependence on fossil fuels and protect groundwater resources.  During his six-year tenure in the Assembly, he authored legislation to reduce the state’s dependence on fossil fuels by increasing the renewable energy goal to 50% by 2030.  He also served on the Higher Education Committee focused on a dedicated reserve source for higher education.

In 2016, Williams was elected as 1st District Supervisor on the County Board of Supervisors, replacing Salud Carbajal who was elected to the U.S. Congress.  Das has provided leadership in obtaining state and federal funding during the Thomas Fire and 1/9 Debris Flow that rocked our county. Additionally, he has worked diligently to develop clean energy locally and to protect vital public services such as libraries.

Democratic Party Endorsement

On July 7, 2016 Democratic Party of Santa Barbara County Chair Gail Teton-Landis announced the Democratic Party endorsement of Das Williams for 1st District County Supervisor. The endorsement read, “We are proud to endorse Supervisor Williams’ re-election campaign. Throughout his career, he has exhibited strong environmental leadership, support for working people, and sought solutions for mental health and homelessness issues. He has demonstrated a commitment to public service.”

Williams joins Supervisor Joan Hartmann as an endorsed Democratic candidate for the Board of Supervisors. The Democratic Party will also consider making an endorsement for Fourth District County Supervisor. Let the race begin.


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